The Listening Post

Xinjiang: The story China wants the world to forget

A Listening Post special on media coverage of Xinjiang, both inside China and beyond.

In this special edition of The Listening Post, we focus on Xinjiang’s detention camps and examine how Uighur journalists, Chinese state media, and “open-source” researchers have covered the story.

How China spins the Xinjiang story to the Chinese

It is not clear how many people are currently being held against their will by the state in the Chinese province of Xinjiang. Conservative estimates put the number of ethnic Uighurs – and other Muslim minorities held under some form of detention since 2017 – between one and 1.5 million.

Beijing calls this practice their response to the threat of “three evils – extremism, terrorism and separatism”. Along with word-of-mouth, informer-based surveillance, and the latest technologies – facial recognition, voice pattern sequencing and DNA profiling – a key tool being used by the state is good old-fashioned propaganda.

The media outlets at its disposal do not call them internment camps or prisons. Instead, they are referred to as “centres for re-education” or even “thought transformation”.

The Listening Post‘s Meenakshi Ravi takes a look at the shifting narratives and the occasionally Orwellian language in Chinese media in defence of the state’s policies and practices in Xinjiang.


Victor Gao – vice president, Center for China and Globalization

Sarah Cook – senior research analyst, Freedom House

Nury Turkel – chairman and founder, Uyghur Human Rights Project

Shelley Zhang – writer, China Uncensored

Interview with Alim Seytoff, director of Radio Free Asia’s Uighur service

While the Chinese media continue to take their orders from Beijing on this story, one outlet has been vital to international coverage of Xinjiang.

Radio Free Asia’s Uighur service has a track record of breaking news on Xinjiang. It was among the first to present facts and figures to back up rumours of the so-called “vocational training camps”.

And it has since unearthed dozens of stories on the crackdown, informing foreign reporters and the Uighur diaspora alike. For RFA Uighur’s staff, the Xinjiang story hits uncomfortably and dangerously close to home.

Alim Seytoff, director of RFA’s Uighur service, speaks to The Listening Post about his organisation’s important work.


Alim Seytoff – director, Radio Free Asia Uighur service

Virtual detectives: How open-source researchers exposed China’s ‘re-education’ camps

The Chinese news media refused to cover the Xinjiang story until the reporting produced by foreign outlets grew too detailed to ignore.

However, much of that detail – the aerial shots of specific camps and documents proving their ultimate purpose – was not the work of foreign journalists; it was uncovered by a handful of independent researchers using “open-source” methods ranging from Chinese search engines to satellite imagery.

The Listening Post‘s Daniel Turi reports on the role played by two open-source investigators in particular in helping journalists – and the rest of the world – understand the reality of Xinjiang’s camps.


Shawn Zhang – law student, University of British Columbia

Adrian Zenz – China scholar

James Palmer – deputy editor, Foreign Policy

Yuan Yang – China tech correspondent, Financial Times